Australian Grand Prix: all the news from qualifying

So, were you up with the sparrows, bacon compound carefully selected to heat up quickly and give you the pace and durability to make it through the first hour of Sky’s pre-show? Or living in media-deprived isolation waiting for the BBC? (Or maybe, like many on Twitter, caught out by Sky listing the pre-show and the show separately as so screwing up the best laid plans of mice and PVRs…).

Anyway. What a qualifying session! If we were pumped about F1 2012 before this morning, then we’re fit to bust now.

It’s not just that the Red Bulls are three-quarters of a second-off-the-pace and that team GB is all over the front row, it’s everything else that happened; a Ferrari so nearly getting the chop in Q1; Kimi Raikkonen getting the chop; Alonso spinning out in Q2, blowing his whole session and looking pretty much on the verge of lamping a marshal (that’s how bad it is at Ferrari); and it’s looking a lot better at Williams. And — get this —  a Lotus and a Mercedes on the second row. Like we say, wow!

Don’t forget up until the red lights went green at six o’clock GMT this morning everything we thought we knew was just conjecture. Yesterday’s three hours of rain-affected practice added nothing to our body of knowledge. No, today is the first time we saw the relative pace of this year’s F1 cars. So what were the stories for you? Our top six are like this.

One: The Red Bull RB8 is only just fast enough. At seven-tenths off the pace it’s slower than the McLaren, the Mercedes and the Lotus and only a smidge quicker than the new Williams. Remember last year, Red Bull dominated the races by dominating qualifying. We don’t believe that approach has changed.

Two: Jake Humphrey said it first in our exclusive interview yesterday, but we will really discover the truth about Lewis and Jenson — as drivers and team players and friends — once they have a car capable of winning the championship. In the MP4 27 it looks like they might.

Three: Maybe Michael Schumacher has still got it and those wags at topgear.com’s Sunday Afternoon Club got it wrong. The AMG-Merc F1 W03 is three or four tenths off the pace of the McLaren, but it’s arguably the second best car out there and looks like it was designed to get the most out of its legendary team leader. Bets on Schu’ landing pole 70 or win 92? That’s the sound of odds shortening you can hear...

Four: Eighteen years younger than Michael Schumacher, Romain Grosjean lines up his Lotus E20 ahead of the Mercedes and behind only the dominant McLarens. Lotus has looked fast in testing, but it was too easy to find reasons not to believe in the team’s pace. Now we know, the car is good. We know something else, a fast car and talent is not enough; returning World Champion Kimi Raikonnen was knocked out in Q1, alongside the Caterhams, Marussias and the dire HRTs, which were so slow and unreliable, they won’t be allowed to race tomorrow. Kimi is going to need to show some mettle if he’s going to bounce back from the worst possible start.

Five: Ferrari looks in trouble, real trouble. The FA2012 looked hateful to drive and as a result Massa came close to grabbing the ‘unlucky seventh’ place in Q1 alongside the donkeys. He didn’t go much further and will start 16th. Meanwhile it wasn’t so much Alonso’s spin in Q2 that signals his desperation with being handed yet another car he can’t win with — Schumacher and Vettel made the same mistake earlier in the day. That he found himself having to push so hard is what is significant. Stuck in the gravel and taking it out on marshals, ‘Nando could only watch the positions slip away… he starts 12th. This will not be allowed to continue.

Six: Twenty seconds before the end of Q1 and the timesheets were led by Kobayashi, Vergne, Perez and Rosberg… All the pre-season talk has been about the six world champions on the grid this year and the 14 titles they share. Well, out of fastest top 11 drivers on the grid, two are starting their second full seasons, three are starting their first. It’s another reason to expect this season might be very different from the previous two.

We’ll be back tomorrow with some reactions after the flag has fallen and some thoughts later in the day once we’ve let it all digested. We’re respecting the fact that many of you won’t be watching live on Sky and going with BBC timings. Let us know if that works for you.

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